concluding remarks on François Raffoul’s The Origins of Responsibility
Thursday, 10 June 2010
I finished reading The Origins of Responsibility by François Raffoul earlier this week. There are definitely quite a few take aways for me. The biggest which I mentioned in a previous post, is the correlation between how we conceive of being and how we then conceive of ethics, and vice a versa. It is interesting how with Nietzsche, Sartre, Levinas, Heidegger (whom all he details), they all push our responsibility towards-the-world to the forefront of our being-in-the-world. That is to say, ethics is not secondary but rather first philosophy or foundational to further philosophy.
Raffoul concludes his examination of responsibility by looking at Derrida. One point that he made reminded me of Kierkegaard, especially in Fear and Trembling. Derrida speaks of how the decision is only a decision when it goes beyond ethical norms or the law, when it goes beyond the possible into the impossible. It is there that the decision is a decision. Relatedly he speaks about how in regard to hospitality, we can’t invite the guest, the guest must simply show up. When we invite them we have regulated our welcome, creating restrictions. There has to be this unboundedness to ethics which goes beyond ethics.
Isn’t this exactly like what Kierkegaard describes as the state which Abraham finds himself in his book Fear and Trembling, having to go beyond the ethical, having to go beyond the approval of another because he can’t speak of—let alone explain what it is he has to do.
I really like this idea of the going beyond the standards, especially considering the state of things today—or looking at history any day for that matter. The ethical norms hold up a certain status quo which propagates injustice, exploitation, alienation, or rather I should say violence against the Other—who is ironically the very person we are told by Jesus that we will find him in. (Zizek’s short book Violence is a great introductory look at this.)
These 20th century continental philosophers love to describe this state of man, the naked vulnerable man standing before the Other, before being, before life, before the decision. I am very partial to this way of thinking, but I wonder moving forward how does this way of thinking/living create community? How does continual de-constructing ever construct a way of living with the Other? How do we create community under a Levinasian sense of responsibility for the other—it seeming to get the closest to this, yet seemingly there being something withheld or missing.
Maybe I should even question if real community is possible, seeing how all these thinkers see an unbridgeable gulf between me and the other in their complete otherness.